Peter Berg

In Critical Beatdown, entertainers are subjected to a series of statements that criticize them and their life's work. Subjects are then given an opportunity to show off their poise while defending themselves and their creative output. The first artist to endure the Critical Beatdown is Peter Berg, star of the long-running TV show Chicago Hope and writer-director of the new film Very Bad Things, a dark comedy about the hijinks that ensue following the accidental death of a stripper following a debauched bachelor party. The second Critical Beatdown subject is Jim Breuer, a stand-up comedian, former Saturday Night Live cast member, and star of the stoner comedy Half Baked. Note: The opinions expressed in Critical Beatdown do not necessarily reflect those of The A.V. Club or its writers.

The Onion: Very Bad Things' portrayal of Judaism borders on anti-Semitic.

Peter Berg: No, see, I don't think it's that way at all. The film shows a very holy, very religious burial ritual, and I think it's done in a way that is respectful. It can actually teach people things. Danny Stern's character has obviously done this really bad thing, but he's trying to seize, like, one ray of hope out of the situation.

O: Yeah, but isn't it sort of a moot point, since his character is covering up the murder and dismemberment of a prostitute?

PB: No, because his character is at heart very moral, so he's trying to make the best of a bad situation. He's trying to hold onto his faith and do the right thing.

O: Peter Berg stole the idea for Very Bad Things from a far superior film called Stag, which also concerned the tragic aftermath of an out-of-control bachelor party.

PB: See, the first time I'd ever heard about Stag was after I had finished writing the screenplay for Very Bad Things. When we were at the point of getting the film financed, we had a lawyer look over the script and the film to make sure there weren't too many similarities. I mean, there were things we had to change; for example, one of the characters in the movie was a baker, and there was also a baker in our script, so we had to change some very minor things. But as far as I understand it, the two films take very different approaches to the material. I will say this: I think it would be interesting to get, like, three different directors—say, Soderberg, Spielberg, and Coppola—and have them all tell the exact same story in a different way.

O: Very Bad Things is a profoundly sexist film.

PB: As far as people claiming that the film is sexist or racist, or that it's attacking Jews, the bottom line is, yeah, these characters do say things that are insulting to various different religions and various different races, and there is some violence toward women. But these characters pay a very high price for their actions. You know, if anything, how can you say that a film is racist when the person who is saying racist things is depicted as a buffoon? You know, there's not a real glorification of his behavior.

O: Very Bad Things relies almost exclusively on shock value for laughs.

PB: Well, you know, that could very well be the case, but it's a comedy, so things are always going to be exaggerated.

O: Very Bad Things is a very moralistic film.

PB: See, I don't understand why that would be any sort of a negative argument. It's like, is it possible to be too nice? Is it possible to be too kind? You know, since when are these bad things? Since when is being moralistic a bad thing?

O: Well, I guess the argument would be that moralistic films are also, in some respects, simplifying complex issues.

PB: Well, you see, I don't see that. I don't see how it's possible to make a film that's too moralistic.

O: There's no real reason for people to see Very Bad Things, since the commercials give away the ending.

PB: See, I don't think that is the case at all. Which commercial are you talking about?

O: I'm thinking about the one where Cameron Diaz tells Jon Favreau that he needs to kill the dog and his best friend.

PB: See, but that wasn't the ending of the film at all. [Editor's note: The aforementioned scene happens no more than 15 minutes before the end of the movie.] And I think it's a good thing that people will be familiar with what the film is about. I mean, everybody I've spoken to about Very Bad Things knows that it is about what happens when a bachelor party goes wrong and a hooker is killed, and I think people should know what the film is about so they can make up their mind about whether they want to see it. I wouldn't want people to see it if they didn't know what it was about.

O: Peter Berg is taking opportunities away from hungry young filmmakers.

PB: No, man. That's just not true. There is no opportunity apart from the opportunities you make for yourself. If I wasn't making it, this film wouldn't get made.

O: Peter Berg's career hit an apex with 1993's Aspen Extreme, and it has been all downhill since then.

PB: I would probably say that The Last Seduction is a better film than Aspen Extreme.

O: Yeah, but you have to admit that Aspen Extreme has had this weird sort of cultural shelf-life.

PB: Yeah, it's definitely a cult film. It definitely has a following.

O: It seems as if that would be a very pleasant film to make.

PB: Oh, yeah. I had a blast making that film. I got to go skiing every day. It was great.

O: Very Bad Things is a misanthropic film that will desensitize viewers with its glib depictions of violence and death.

PB: See, the only change I would make in that description is that I would say it is a cautionary tale, and a fable about karma, and that it encourages people to live lives of greater mindfulness. I don't think there is anything glib or anything particularly desensitizing about it.

O: Well, I guess the argument would be that when you have films that address violence in a comic way, or in a way that is not rendered realistically, that can have a desensitizing effect.

PB: Oh, yeah, well, absolutely. It's different. To me, violence in a film is Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Very Bad Things is a farce. It's meant to be looked at as a farce. It's clearly over-the-top. Someone I talked to once said that it reminded him of a Three Stooges cartoon with blood. The violence is excessive and shocking, and it gives audiences permission to laugh and go along with what is basically a morality tale.

O: The world of Very Bad Things bears little or no resemblance to the world we all live in.